Rare crested rat subfossils unveil Afro-Eurasian ecological corridors synchronous with early human dispersals

Ignacio A. Lazagabaster, Valentina Rovelli, Pierre Henri Fabre, Roi Porat, Micka Ullman, Uri Davidovich, Tal Lavi, Amir Ganor, Eitan Klein, Keren Weiss, Perach Nuriel, Meirav Meiri, Nimrod Marom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biotic interactions between Africa and Eurasia across the Levant have invoked particular attention among scientists aiming to unravel early human dispersals. However, it remains unclear whether behavioral capacities enabled early modern humans to surpass the Saharo- Arabian deserts or if climatic changes triggered punctuated dispersals out of Africa. Here, we report an unusual subfossil assemblage discovered in a Judean Desert's cliff cave near the Dead Sea and dated to between ∼42,000 and at least 103,000 y ago. Paleogenomic and morphological comparisons indicate that the specimens belong to an extinct subspecies of the eastern African crested rat, Lophiomys imhausi maremortum subspecies nova, which diverged from the modern eastern African populations in the lateMiddle Pleistocene ∼226,000 to 165,000 y ago. The reported paleomitogenome is the oldest so far in the Levant, opening the door for future paleo- DNA analyses in the region. Species distribution modeling points to the presence of continuous habitat corridors connecting eastern Africa with the Levant during the Last Interglacial ∼129,000 to 116,000 y ago, providing further evidence of the northern ingression of African biomes into Eurasia and reinforcing previous suggestions of the critical role of climate change in Late Pleistocene intercontinental biogeography. Furthermore, our study complements other paleoenvironmental proxies with local-instead of interregional- paleoenvironmental data, opening an unprecedented window into the Dead Sea rift paleolandscape.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2105719118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number31
StatePublished - 3 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. Assistance in fieldwork: Dudi Greenbaum, Jamil al Atrash, and Muhammad Ali Ibrahim Bdur (National Parks Authority). Assistance in radiocarbon dating: Alex Cherkinsky (Center of Applied Isotope Studies in Georgia) and Tom Higham, Peter Ditchfield, and Thibaut Deviese (Oxford Radiocarbon Unit in the United Kingdom). Access to natural history collections: Doreen Breyer, Frieder Mayer, and Detlef Willborn (Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin), Roberto Portela Miguez and Vincent Fernandez (National History Museum, London), Violaine Colin (National Museum of Natural History, Paris), Mathew Lowe (Museum of Zoology, University of Cambridge), Shai Meiri and Karin Tamar (Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, Tel Aviv University), and the curatorial team at the Kenyan National Museums, Nairobi. Graphical design: Aya Marck. Helpful comments and/or support: John Wahlert, Cécile Callou, Sara Weinstein, Tom Butynski, Charles Foley, Jonathan Kingdon, Stephanie Higgins, Natalia Égüez, Guy Bar-Oz, Reuven Yeshurun, Roee Shafir, John Rowan, Kaye Reed, Peter Ungar, Faysal Bibi, Eli Amson, Johannes Müller, and Sara Varela. Special thanks: two anonymous reviewers and Liora Kolska Horwitz, who has pioneered work on the Judean Desert cave faunas and has been a constant source of guidance. This research was funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant (Grant No. 802752 to N.M.) for the DEADSEA_ECO Project (https://sites.google.com/ view/deadsea-eco/home). I.A.L. acknowledges a Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Israeli Council for Higher Education. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation (I.A.L., Application GB-TAF-156). This work is a contribution of Institut des Sciences de l’Évolution de Montpellier 2021-145, Université de Montpellier, National Center for Scientific Research (France), École Pratique des Hautes Études, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Montpellier, France.

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© 2021 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Ecological models
  • Geometric morphometrics
  • Paleoenvironment
  • Paleogenetics
  • Rodent

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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